Unexpected Blessings

This is guest post by Heather Von St. James, a mother of a little girl named Lily. When Lily was just 3 1/2 months old, Heather was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a type of cancer that kills 90-95% of those who have it.  She is now cancer free and wants to share her inspiring story. 

My first thought that day was, “Who will take care of Lily?” My daughter was only three and a half months old. We’d barely had time to start parenting when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Along with the shock and the sadness came an unexpected blessing. I learned who my true friends are, and we came to appreciate my own parents more than ever
My husband and I were thrilled when our daughter Lily arrived on the fourth of August 2005. She was a lovely, healthy baby girl, and I took little time to recover from an easy pregnancy

Our family and friends gathered to celebrate and welcome our beautiful new child. In the busy and joyful days that followed Lily’s birth, we felt that nothing could go wrong. We both had good jobs, a great circle of friends and co-workers, loving family and our health. We were completely unprepared for what came next

About a month after going back to work, I began to feel extremely fatigued and short of breath. Much of this could have been caused our new responsibilities, but this was so unlike my usual healthy self. I started to think something was very wrong

My doctor ordered a series of tests, and soon we had the answer, one I never expected. I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. I hadn’t even known that I’d been exposed to asbestos at some time in my life, but there it was. The prognosis was dismal. Without aggressive treatment, I would not live more than fifteen months. I would have to leave our little girl permanently before she was two years old. My husband would have to bring her up alone

After the first panicked reaction, I determined to fight for my life with all that I possessed. The solution we found was drastic but offered me the best hope of recovery. On February second, my husband and I flew to Boston for treatment by the best mesothelioma doctor available. We had to leave our young daughter in the care of my parents
It was heartbreaking to say goodbye, but I knew that Lily would have the best of care. Both my mom and my dad showered our little girl with all the love and attention any baby could need. I had to turn my attention to the fight of my life

The first step was surgery called extrapleural pneumonectomy. The surgeon removed my left lung. I spent the next eighteen days recovering in the hospital. Then came two months of chemotherapy and radiation. It was a long, arduous fight
Trying to be brave for my loved ones; I hid the sorrow of knowing what we were missing. Our baby was growing, learning to roll over, taking her first solid food and scooting around on her own. My parents kept us up to date with email, sending picture after picture of our precious little one

Getting through the days and looking at those pictures, not able to hold my own first child was the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t know how we could have managed without the loving support of our friends. In Boston, we got acquainted with a new circle of friends fighting the same war we were who also lent their support.

My parents were not forgotten. Church friends and neighbors gathered around them to provide practical help and love. Mom and Dad never lacked for a helping hand. They needed that assistance, because they both work full time.

Our friends and family held us in the arms of prayer while we struggled with this disease. They sent cars and made phone calls, cared for our daughter and her caregivers, ran errands…the list is endless. How could we have gotten along without them?

Sometimes we received help from completely unexpected sources: friends we didn’t know we had until they stepped in. These blessings at such a difficult time were truly unexpected.

Check out her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

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